Building an email list is widely promoted as the cornerstone of an effective online marketing strategy. And if you’ve read my previous posts on email marketing, like Do You Really Need an Email List?, you know I wholeheartedly agree!
But while an email list is a fantastic tool for growing your service-based business, you also need reliable email marketing software to properly manage it.
Not all email marketing tools are created equal. The best email marketing software should help you:
- easily send attractive email messages,
- measure and track the response from your readers,
- keep your subscriber list accurate and up-to-date, and
- make sure your emails arrive on-time, every time.
Email Marketing Software Features
So what should you look for when comparing email marketing services?
Great Looking Emails
It may be superficial but first impressions count! Your email marketing software must make it easy for you to create beautiful and engaging email messages that look good no matter where they’re viewed. The keys to this are your templates and the software’s built-in email editor:
- Ready-to-use email templates: Your email marketing tool should provide attractive, ready-to-use email templates that are mobile-ready — meaning they work well on both desktop email clients and mobile devices, with a layout that adjusts to suit the screen width and features of whatever device it is viewed on.
- Custom-designed templates: You want the option to easily import and use your own templates so you can design email templates that match your brand, website, and unique content.
- Plain-text messages: Some people prefer not to receive graphic or HTML-based emails so you need to be able to automatically include a plain-text version of your message.
- Easy-to-use email editor: Creating your email content has to be simple and intuitive so you can quickly create, preview and update your emails from within your browser, with no coding (or frustration) required!
- Test emails: The email marketing software should let you send an unlimited number of test emails to yourself and others to make sure your email message looks perfect before you send it out to your readers.
Strengthening Your Relationship with Subscribers
You use your email marketing as a way to connect and build rapport with your subscribers. As such, your email marketing software should allow for each of the following to help you enhance your relationship with your readers.
- Personalization: You should be able to personalize each email by automatically inserting your subscriber’s name or a product they purchased. This creates a more direct connection with your reader. Personalization is often done through custom fields that can store any info you choose about subscribers and easily be inserted into the email content.
- Segments: Your list may contain specific groups of subscribers with similar traits. Your email marketing tool should let you create groups of subscribers from your email list based on custom fields or other date-based criteria. With segments you can send targeted emails to individual groups, improving your strategic email marketing by catering to the unique interests of your readers.
- A/B testing: Your email management software should have the ability to quickly test two variations of your email campaign, comparing different subject lines, content or calls to action to see which one gets the best response (in the form of clickthroughs, shares, conversions, etc.), and then sending the most effective email to your whole list.
- Autoresponders and drip campaigns: Autoresponders are emails that are triggered by a specific action or date. For instance, you can schedule a welcome email to automatically be sent out to each new subscriber. Similarly, autoresponder messages can be sent on a specific date (based on a custom field for birthdays or anniversaries, for example) or a set number of days or months after joining your list or making a purchase. Autoresponders are also perfect for delivering weekly lessons or ongoing training courses where each student receives the lessons in sequential order no matter when they start the course.
- Share your blog content with subscribers: You can’t count on people returning to your website each week to see if you’ve added new content which is one reason you want to get them on your email list so you can ensure that your awesome content is seen! RSS to email is a helpful feature that automatically sends out your new blog posts by email to your subscribers. You can choose whether to include the full post content directly in the email or just a short snippet with a link back to your website.
- Social sharing: A great way to grow your email list is to help your subscribers share your email campaigns with their friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media with a single mouse click.
“Hands-off” Management of Email Subscribers
Email marketing software helps you focus on your business, rather than the administrative aspects of managing your email list, including:
- Full list management: Your email tool should automatically handle all new signups, unsubscribes, bounces and spam complaints behind the scenes so you never need to go in and do manual updates.
- Double and single opt-in lists: You want the option to ask new subscribers to confirm their email address when joining your list, or to import existing “confirmed” emails to your subscriber list.
- Unlimited number of email lists: You should be able to create as many email lists as you need to group your subscribers, especially when using autoresponders to offer different courses or customizing welcome emails based on when or where subscribers joined your list.
- Client preference management: Subscribers are more likely to stay on your email list when they can update their contact details (such as a change in email address) and manage their own preferences (like areas of interest or message frequency).
- Opt-in form builder: If people will join your email list from your website, you need to be able to easily create HTML forms that you can add to your site without having to write all the code.
- List export and backups: Your email list is a crucial part of your business marketing so maintaining a backup of that list is essential. Make sure your email marketing software lets you select the fields you want to export from any list in your account straight into a spreadsheet or text file for offline storage.
Continuous Growth and Improvement
You can continue to enhance your marketing efforts by learning from the information your email marketing software provides you. Such information should include:
- Detailed email reporting: By tracking the opens, clicks, forwards, unsubscribes, and bounce rates for your email campaigns over time, you’ll have an understanding of WHO opens your email, WHEN it’s opened, and WHAT links are clicked on as well as which links are not attracting attention.
- Compare sent emails: Much like A/B testing, you can spot trends by comparing opens and clicks across multiple email messages at once. This gives insight into what content your readers respond to the most so you can tailor your future email newsletters accordingly.
- Track email clients and devices: You should also be able to track what email software your subscribers are using to open your emails and what type of devices (desktop, tablet, smartphone) they use most frequently. Then use this insight to decide how best to format your emails for your readers.
- Integration with Google Analytics: By integrating your email marketing software with Google Analytics, you can automatically track your email-related sales and conversions, giving you a clearer understanding of WHERE your sales come from.
- Export, backup and save: Exporting all reporting data, not just your email lists, to an Excel spreadsheet facilitates detailed analysis of your email marketing efforts.
Email Messages that Get Delivered Every Time
Many email marketing campaigns fail simply because they do not get delivered. By using reputable email marketing software, you’ll be able to:
- Conduct spam tests: When you can run your campaign through popular spam filters at the desktop, server, and firewall level prior to sending, you can identify any aspect of the email that may be flagged as spam and make changes before sending.
- Schedule email delivery: You should be able to schedule your emails in advance of the actual delivery date and time so you can schedule the email around your day, rather then scheduling your day around the email.
- Ensure compliance with anti-spam rules: Your email management system should make sure your emails always identify who you are and automatically include an unsubscribe link. This will help you comply with the CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) laws that came into effect July 1, 2014.
Extra Features that Make Life Easier
While the sections above cover the absolute musts for a great email management system, the following will make your email marketing campaigns, strategies, and list management that much easier. Try to select an email marketing tool that:
- Has support hours and contact methods (phone, chat, email) that match your work hours and preferences.
- Does not attach third-party logos or ads to your emails. Your readers subscribed to your list, not some stranger’s.
- Archives your sent email campaigns so you can link to them in the future (particularly needed if your email content isn’t available on your blog).
Which Email Marketing Software Should You Choose?
Although most popular email marketing tools offer most, if not all, of the above, different tools implement these features in different ways. Email marketing services usually offer free demos or trial periods so take advantage of these to ensure that you select a tool that you find easy to work with and meets your specific needs.
- It allows us to create fully-editable custom templates to perfectly match your website and brand,
- It has a simple, client-friendly email editor that works beautifully with both the default and custom-made templates, and
- It offers both a monthly subscription plan (great if you send messages more than once a month) and a pay-as-you-go option where you pay only when you send emails (perfect if you have a small list or send messages infrequently).
All that said, you should choose the tool that best suits your needs. If you’re unsure about which features will support your own email marketing initiatives, give me a call and we’ll select the email marketing software that’s best for you.